And was unexpectedly lifted high into the air.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Ron warned as he pulled Crookshanks away from the chess board. The huge ginger cat squirmed in his grip and clawed the back of his hand, making Ron swear. “Hermione! Your mad cat is at it again!” he called out.
“What?” Hermione’s distracted voice came floating through the doorway of the workroom. Hearing her, Crookshanks fought even harder to get loose. Harry, sitting on the other side of the chessboard, laughed at his friend’s predicament, earning a Weasley death glare.
“Your cat, ‘Mione! Help me with it! We’re trying to play che– Merlin’s bloody hernia!”
Crookshanks had decided to use his teeth.
“Ron, don’t curse. I’m busy; if you need help with something, either wait or ask Harry.” Hermione was clearly only half-listening to her husband.
Ron turned towards his friend with a pleading look on his face, but Harry shook his head, still grinning. The redhead glared at him again, but managed to struggle over to the washroom and shut Crookshanks inside. He then stormed back to the table, nursing his injured hands.
“It’s your turn,” Harry informed him helpfully.
“Could’ve given me a hand there, you know,” Ron grumbled, as he made an ungainly collapse into his chair. “Some friend you are.”
“I knew you could handle it on your own,” Harry replied. “I’m sure you’ve had plenty of practice the last couple of years.
Ron groaned. “Oh, don’t even start. You know, one of these days, I’m going to Transfigure that beast into a piece of wood and burn it.” He sighed, then turned his attention to the chessboard, shrewdly assessing the situation. “My move, is it? Hope you didn’t cheat while I was busy.”
“Of course not.” In truth, Harry had considered moving a few pawns while his friend’s back was turned - he still needed all the help he could get when playing Ron - but had remembered from past experiences that chess pieces were shameless tale-tellers.
Hermione came into the room just as Ron put Harry in check for the second time. She was carrying a crumpled sheet of parchment and looked irritated. “Ron, do you even glance at the reports you throw away? It’s a good thing I needed Mundungus’s arrest form today, or it would’ve Vanished when the bin cleaned itself.”
Ron glanced up, surprised. “That’s the actual arrest form? I thought it was just the report summary.”
The brunette rolled her eyes. “Parchment has two sides, Ron. The forms are on the back of the summary now.”
Oops. Harry made a mental note to try and locate last week’s paperwork before Kreacher tidied the study.
Ron tossed his hands in the air. “Couldn’ta told me how the new system works before I filled it all out, huh?”
His wife huffed. “I’m just saying that it really wouldn’t kill you to just look before you throw away a legal document,” she said, sitting down at the table. She added the parchment to a similar pile, next to the Sneakoscope she had cleverly rigged to tell her when the report she was reading was not entirely truthful.
Harry finally realized he would have to sacrifice his queen to save his king. He sighed, slid the piece over, and looked away from the board. “‘Dung’s arrested again, huh?”
“Yeah,” Ron answered, making his capture. “Seems he got hold of a skeleton key and tried to break into the Lovegoods’ and nick Luna’s nargle nest.”
Confused, Hermione looked up from her writing. “Nargle nest? What would Mundungus want with that kind of foolishness?”
Ron grinned. “Oh, you’re going to love this… she made it out of unicorn hair.”
“What?” she squawked, dropping her quill. “Of all the ridiculous wastes… Oh, for goodness’ sake!” She hurried to clean the spilled ink.
“Anyway,” Ron continued, “‘Time I got there, Luna had Mundungus in a Full Body-Bind and was trying to convert him to the search for Crumple-Horned Snorkacks.” He shook his head. “Never thought ‘Dung would be glad to see an Auror. Luna says she was sorting rune tablets and the dirigible plums warned her of an ‘unbeliever’ approaching. On a mission, that one.”
“Ginny thinks she’s really going to take The Quibbler to new heights,” Harry mused.
Ron sniggered. “That’s assuming it had heights to begin with.”
Hermione spoke up. “Harry, if you want me to document your reports, you’re going to have to give me them.” While he fished around in his pockets, she asked softly, “How are things between you two, anyway? You and Ginny, that is.”
Harry frowned as he handed several rolled-up sheets of parchment to her. “Well… we’re steady, I guess. I mean, we’re comfortable, and, y’know, we see each other on a regular basis.” He ran a hand through his hair thoughtfully, and then admitted, “...But neither of us are really ready to...move on. Take the next step. Not yet, at least.”
“You do love her, don’t you?” Hermione asked rather directly.
“Yes,” her friend said hastily. “Yes, of course. It’s just that she’s trying to focus on playing with the Holyhead Harpies, and doesn’t want to get sidetracked by a serious relationship during that career. And me…” he swallowed. “I’m still finding it a little hard to be completely open with her. I mean, after seven years of only fully trusting you two, it’s been hard to...open up. To not try to protect her from everything. Because she doesn’t need that, and…” He frowned at the table, feeling slightly guilty. “And I owe it to her to be fully honest after shutting her out for so long.”
Hermione gave him a sympathetic smile, but he was quickly distracted as his friend captured his attention and his knight. For several minutes, her quill dutifully scratched away as the two men traded quips and barbs over the raging battlefield between them. Harry’s troops grew increasingly mutinous as Ron’s began to mock them mercilessly.
Suddenly, the front door banged open and someone with long, flaming red hair walked into the room from the hall. “Well, this is a familiar sight,” she said, seeing them. “Hermione doing all the work, while you two waste time.”
“Speak of the devil and she appears,” Ron muttered to Harry, and then glared at his sister. “Ginny, have you ever heard of knocking?”
She shrugged uncaringly. “Evidently not.”
“What brings you?” Hermione asked brightly.
Ginny stretched her arms above her head. “I just finished up today’s Quidditch practice. I was actually going to Grimmauld Place first, but Kreacher said Harry was here, so I decided to visit you lot all at once.” She smiled brilliantly at Harry. “We’re playing Puddlemere United next week. You coming?”
He nodded. “Definitely.”
Ron looked up. “Puddlemere? You’ll be playing Oliver Wood! I’d come just to see that.” He grinned at Harry.
“Oliver’s a great Keeper, Ginny,” Harry warned her. “Even you’ll have to really fight him to score goals.”
“I’ve seen him play; I already know he’s talented.” Ginny tossed her hair. “I just hope he doesn’t expect mercy. By the way, Ron, you have some post. A barn owl dropped these off as I was walking through the door. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to wash up a bit.”
She dumped some letters on the table, and entered the washroom. Harry leaned back in his chair to watch her. Her skin, already tanned from the time she spent outside, was further darkened by mud streaked along hands, arms, and face. She removed her dirty Quidditch robes, revealing somewhat cleaner clothing underneath, then began scrubbing soapy water over her skin. Her lustrous red hair fell in front of her face, obscuring the features he knew so well. As a slim hand reached up to sweep it away, she noticed him watching her and winked cheekily.
Looking at Ginny – his girlfriend – Harry felt a tightening in his chest and suddenly was ridiculously happy just to be in her presence. It was incredible that this exquisite, wonderful person could–
“Your move, mate.” Ron’s voice cut through his daze. Harry hastily returned his attention to the chessboard and saw his friend frowning slightly. “And stop staring at my sister.”
“Ronald,” Hermione warned, giving him a look that said more than words. The redhead wisely shut his mouth and picked up the letters from the table.
Harry could see that Ron was inevitably going to win this game. “Might as well push it to the end,” he muttered to himself, dolefully playing into Ron’s trap. “Am I in checkmate yet?” he asked aloud, knowing the question would irritate his friend. As much as the redhead loved winning, surprising his opponent was half the fun.
When Harry received no answer, he looked at Ron. His friend was staring at the back of the first envelope, eyes wide. Harry was concerned to see him lose interest in the chess game so suddenly. “Ron? What is it, mate?”
Ron spoke slowly. “It’s Lavender.”
“Lavender sent this.”
Harry charged around the table and saw the name of their old classmate etched in silvery ink on high-quality parchment garnished with a heart design.
“They’re identical,” Ron murmured vaguely, handing him the other two letters. Harry sat down again to examine them.
Hermione frowned suspiciously at her husband from across the table. “Ron, dear, why might your old girlfriend be writing to you?” she asked in a dangerous voice.
“It’s okay, Hermione,” Harry said, a bit exasperated. “It’s addressed to ‘Mr. and Mrs. Ronald and Hermione Weasley’. And what’s more,” he added, “she wrote to Ginny and me too. Probably an invitation of some sort.”
“Really? That’s great!” Ginny, finished washing, came up behind Harry, and rested her chin on his shoulder to look at the letter in his hand. “It’s nice to see that she’s not shutting herself away anymore. It wasn’t healthy for someone as social as she normally is.” She hugged Harry around the neck, their cheeks touching, and he found himself quite liking his position. He grinned lazily at Ron, who would have grimaced and averted his eyes had he not been in a state of shock.
“Well?” Hermione demanded, only momentarily reassured. “What are they for?”
Ron snapped out of his daze and opened the envelope. His eyes scanned the creamy parchment, widening once more. “She’s getting married! This is a wedding invitation!”
“Lavender’s engaged!” Ginny shrieked next to Harry’s ear, half-deafening him. “Oh, wow! That’s so amazing!” Hermione looked elated, but said nothing.
Harry covered his ears and scowled at his girlfriend. “Ginny, that’s great, but could you please spare my hearing?”
She ignored him. “She told me she was seeing someone, but not that it was that serious! Who is it, Ron? Who? Who?”
Rohn stared at her, taken aback by her enthusiastic response. He cleared his throat and looked back down. “Erm, well, she’s marrying a bloke called–” His jaw dropped and he whispered, “Galloping gargoyles.” They waited for him to continue, but he seemed to be stricken dumb.
Ginny lost her patience. “Stop gaping like a slack-jawed idiot, and tell us who it is!” When no reply was forthcoming, she grumbled and tore open the envelope addressed with her own name. At the same time, Hermione moved behind Ron to look at theirs, and both women gasped in shock.
Ginny held her invitation in front of Harry, for both of them to see. It read,
is overjoyed to announce her engagement to
Dudley Evans Dursley
Harry barely registered the rest of the script; his brain had jammed after his cousin’s name. He felt stunned as though someone had punched him in the gut.
With all the former Gryffindors speechless, the only sounds came from a soup simmering on the stove, Ron’s grandfather clock’s murmurs, and the quiet whistling of the Sneakoscope.
Four startled shrieks (two of them manly, of course) rent the air as Crookshanks gleefully pounced on the table, sending Auror reports, a smashed ink bottle, and screaming chess pieces flying across the room. Ron was the first to recover.
"Bloody monster cat!"